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    Monday, July 8, 2024

    Considerations for Delaying Mobile Phone Ownership for Minors: A Parental Perspective

    Olufemi Adeyemi 

    The proliferation of smartphone ownership among children and adolescents in the last decade warrants attention. While there are documented benefits associated with smartphone usage, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential risks and challenges this trend poses to this vulnerable demographic.

    Bisola Aiyeola, a prominent figure in the entertainment industry known for her participation in the Big Brother Naija reality television show and her acting career, has recently addressed concerns raised about her approach to parenting.

    During a recent episode of “Mums Next Door” hosted by Maria Chike, Bisola shared her experience facing criticism for her decision to delay providing her 15-year-old daughter with a mobile phone until she reaches the age of 16.

    Notwithstanding the adverse reaction, Bisola stands resolute in her decision, elucidating that her daughter can utilize a laptop for academic endeavors and maintain communication with peers through the Zoom platform.

    She also shared an incident where she discovered her daughter had created a smart chat account on her laptop, resulting in an extension of the phone ban for another year.

    Bisola shared that she has faced criticism regarding her parenting choices, particularly concerning her decision to delay providing her daughter with a mobile phone until she turns 16. Her daughter, who recently turned 15, has expressed a desire for a phone, but Bisola has maintained her stance, emphasizing that her daughter will receive a phone when she reaches the age of 16. Bisola acknowledges the concerns raised by others regarding potential emergencies or social challenges, but she highlights that her daughter has access to a laptop for schoolwork and can communicate with friends via Zoom. While some individuals may perceive her approach as overly cautious or protective, Bisola asserts that these opinions are subjective and she remains confident in her decision.

    “There was a time I found out she opened a smart chat account on her laptop, and I disciplined her, which led me to extend her phone usage ban by a year because she was supposed to get it this year at 15.”

    What evidence exists to support restricting smartphone use for minors under 16?

    What was been said?

    That different studies and publications show the negative aspects involved in the use of these devices by children under 16 years of age and that, as a result, using a smartphone should not be allowed before this age.

    What do we know so far?

    There is no scientific evidence to establish the minimum age for using a smartphone without risks. Up to now, evidence suggests that the effect of smartphones on adolescents depends on how and in which contexts they use them. Social media has, for example, been associated with poorer mental health and a greater likelihood of suffering from depression and taking part in dangerous activities. But is but one factor among many.

    There is no right age to start using a smartphone

    Based on current scientific evidence, it remains challenging to determine an appropriate age for minors to possess a phone. This notion was reinforced in a recent comprehensive review of over 100 meta-analyses on the impact of screens, published in Nature Human Behaviour. The study asserts that establishing a uniform age for screen usage is scientifically unfeasible due to the varying developmental stages of children and adolescents, as well as the diverse applications of these devices.

    “We believe that what children do with their devices is much more important than the devices themselves, so banning phones will most likely not address the root of the problem”, Taren Sanders, data scientist at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education and leader of the aforementioned study, explained to Verificat in an email.

    In accordance with the findings of the AmericanPsychological Association (APA) as of April 2023, it has been determined that the potential risks associated with social media usage can be more pronounced for individuals who begin using smartphones between the ages of 10 and 14, compared to those who start using them at the age of 18. These risks may include adverse effects on mental health, engagement in high-risk behaviors in real life, sexting, and cyberbullying, among others.

    Are smartphones truly harmful?

    In conclusion, experts agree that screens themselves are not inherently harmful. However, the risks and benefits associated with screen use depend on several factors, including the device, usage patterns, and individual circumstances. A comprehensive review led by Sanders revealed that most screen-related activities have both positive and negative impacts on users’ health. Notably, the researchers identified detrimental effects primarily linked to mental health, such as an increased risk of depression and risky behaviors, specifically in the context of social media usage. It is important to emphasize, however, that these negative effects are generally considered minimal.

    “Issues such as depression and mental health are complex, and while the time spent in front of the screen could be part of the problem, it is certainly not the only variable”, the Australian data scientist said. His conclusions are similar to those of other umbrella reviews that have assessed the findings of systematic reviews and meta-analyses published on the topic, and that consider the associations between the use of screens and mental health to be “weak” and “inconsistent”

    In the opinion of María Salmerón of the AEP, there is sufficient evidence to suggest the existence of a concerning situation. While acknowledging the need for further research and resource allocation, Salmerón emphasizes the importance of addressing the issue promptly rather than ignoring it.

    In addition to the conflicting results and limited data, this research area faces the added challenge of relying solely on observational studies, making it difficult to establish causal relationships. “We cannot definitively determine whether social media, for example, leads to poorer mental health or if individuals with poorer mental health are drawn to social media,” concludes the Australian researcher. 

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